25 January 2012

Christiformative Salvation

Interesting and illuminating article in the current JETS by our brother Eric Johnson over at Southern Seminary: "Rewording the Justification/Sanctification Relation with Some Help From Speech Acts Theory."

Johnson suggests that we apply the speech act model of locution/illocution/perlocution (what a statement means/what a statement does/what a statement intends to result) to current debates on the relationship between justification and progressive sanctification. He proposes that this gives us a fresh perspective by which to keep justification and sanctification distinct yet inseparable. Specifically, Johnson suggests that justification (the declarative) is God's illocution through Christ, and sanctification (the progressive) is God's perlocution through the Holy Spirit.

I don't agree with everything (e.g. the assertion that Paul spends more time on justification by faith than any other facet of salvation, p. 770) but the essay is excellent. In one solid section of the article Johnson suggests that "Christiformative salvation" is what we are after in the Christian life (he prefers the term "Christiformity" to "sanctification"). The second-to-last paragraph is a stirring portrait of Christian transformation.
As finite, temporal, and embodied creatures Christians become conformed to Christ gradually, over time, by means of multiple faith-experiences of God and his word, through which the brain-soul of believers becomes more or less permanently restructured by (1) their relationship with God; (2) God’s declarative word (“You are already righteous and holy in Christ”); and (3) virtuous practice (which depends upon and grows from relationship with God and his declarative word), such that through faith the believer’s character is more disposed to perceive, feel, and act similarly in the future.

This gradual, long-term change is what is being termed “Christiformative salvation.”

The initial changes created by God’s word through faith include regeneration (Titus 3:5; John 1:13) or being made alive to God (Eph 2:5); the entrance of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the believer (Rom 5:5; 8:11; 1 Cor 3:19); the freedom to love and obey God; the death-blow given to the old self (Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20); and the birth of the new self (2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:10).

Longterm, ongoing (yet halting) Christ-centered characterological change includes the growing ability to abide in Christ and commune with God, encompassing greater knowledge, intimacy, and love for God for who he is in himself, and so better, purer worship; greater and deeper repentance; fuller, deeper faith that permeates more of one’s inner world; better obedience; growth in the quality of the fruit (or virtues) of the Spirit; increasing self-awareness and less self-deception; growing reliance upon the indwelling Holy Spirit, the mortification of the old self and fighting against the flesh (Romans 6; 8:13; Gal 5:16–20; Col 3:9–10), and increase in the psychological complexity, power, and influence of the new self (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:10, 4:24); greater acceptance that one is a child of God (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6); deepening fellowship with the saints and mutual edification (Ephesians 4); greater wisdom and skill in witnessing to others of Christ; greater focus on helping the poor and weak; and more contented suffering.

In the context of a living relationship with God, the more deeply and thoroughly believers consent to God’s declarative words—“You are already righteous and holy in Christ”—the more deeply, thoroughly, and permanently they actually become righteous and holy in Christ, given by God and mediated by his word, and their experience, practice, and human relationships. (p. 779)

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